The government’s directive on mandatory use of face masks in public places in a bid to curb the spread of Covid-19 has instantly sparked huge demand for the items.
There is evidence that masks curtail the spread of the coronavirus and offer first-line protection to the wearer. The campaign will greatly help to curb local transmission of the deadly virus.
But the high demand has come at a price. Key among them is accessibility and quality. Already, the market is flooded with masks of poor quality that retail at low prices.
Our concern is the risks that abound in using such inferior products to deal with a lethal virus that defies any known cure.
Already, the Ministry of Health and the Kenya Bureau of Standards have issued guidelines to manufacturers but, clearly, these seem not to be followed — certainly not with rogue traders out to make a killing from the crisis.
This is why we need a system for enforcing standards. Leaving backdoor manufacturers and traders to do their bidding is dangerous. Quality is compromised.
Equally distressing is the cost of procuring quality masks. Good-quality ones cost more than Sh100 a piece and should be used once and properly disposed of at the end of the day.
In an economy where a majority of the population live from hand to mouth, such a high price locks out many and, worse, exposes them to infection.
The question is, can the government make the masks readily available and affordable to most Kenyans?
We note that local production has begun at Rivatex, in Eldoret, and the Kitui County Textile Centre, among other places. But its impact on the market is still minimal.
The point is that quality masks are expensive and out of reach for ordinary people, hence the onus on the government to make them affordable.
It is not lost on anyone that the government has received donations from Jack Ma that should be channelled to the needy.
Added to that is usage and disposal. We call for a public communication and information campaign to sensitise the people on proper usage and disposal of masks to avoid environmental risks.
The government’s push for personal hygiene and other protection methods should be complemented with practical measures like making available affordable masks and sanitisers.
Indeed, the government has directed the courts to release alcoholic substances being kept as exhibits to manufacturers of sanitisers to enable them to make the product affordably.
In effect, manufacturers are being cushioned and should pass on the benefits to consumers.
Stemming the coronavirus infections, now at 184, is an enormous challenge. All need government support through interventions to access personal protective gear easily and affordably.